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Sonny Reizner’s passing marks the end of an era

Dec 3, 2002 6:36 AM

   The sports betting world is mourning the passing of Julius “Sonny” Reizner, who died of complications associated with Parkinson’s disease on Saturday. He was 81.

   A pioneer in Nevada’s sports book industry, Reizner is known for several innovations in sports betting, including:

”¡ the “circled” game, in which the book took lower bets because of injuries or other factors,

_ his landmark NFL contest at the Castaways,

”¡ parlay, teaser and proposition bets.

   More important, Reizner will always be remembered as “a great person” who “never had an unkind thing to say about another person ”¦ and always had a smile on his face,” according to former Stardust sportsbook manager and current GamingToday sports columnist, Richard Saber.

   “Not only was Sonny a kind and giving human being, he was one of the most generous,” Saber said. “Everyone who worked for him received the best treatment, the best salary, and the best benefits of any sports shop in Nevada.”

   Saber said an example of Reizner’s perpetually sunny disposition was when he and other executives at the Sheraton Desert Inn parted company.

   “Sonny never got angry. Instead, he said ”˜It was nothing personal, strictly business,’ and that he ”˜appreciated how nicely they treated me,’” Saber said.

   Bill Friedman, the Castaways executive who helped launch Reizner’s career in 1977, agreed that “the most recognized bookmaker” in the country will be remembered for his respect and caring for people around him.

   “He handled people beautifully, and always had an upbeat, positive attitude,” Friedman recalled. “But everything you saw with Sonny was real; it was never a façade.”

   Friedman said that Reizner’s passing marked the end of an era, in which the sports book director, or bookmaker, “did everything,” as compared to today’s corporate world of line services and computer odds.

   In addition, Reizner instilled his family values into the running of the sports book.

   “Sonny always ran a straight-up operation — regulators never raised a question about his business,” Friedman said. “The man the world saw was the real thing — that was just the way he was.”

   A native of Taunton, Mass., Reizner was an avid sports enthusiast who loved Boston teams such as the Celtics and Red Sox.

   Not surprisingly, his interest in sports also extended to betting on games.

   In 1970, Reizner moved to Las Vegas and worked for pioneer bookmaker Bob Martin and the old Churchill Downs Race & Sports Book, as well as the Fremont and Stardust hotels, before joining Friedman at the Castaways in 1977.

   It was at the Castaways that Reizner helped transform the sports betting industry in Nevada.

   Among his accomplishments was the establishing of the first NFL point spread contest, the Castaways Challenge. He also become famous for his prop bets and original Super Bowl and Monday Night Football parlay cards.

   After the Castaways closed to make room for Steve Wynn’s Mirage, Reizner went to the Rio Hotel where he opened its race and sports book. He also had positions at the Frontier and Desert Inn before retiring in the late 1990s.

   Reizner is survived by his wife, Rolene of Las Vegas; sons, Alan of Austin, Texas, and Adam of Las Vegas; daughters, Jann of Las Vegas and Gale Levine of Hopkinton, Mass.; and five grandchildren.

   Services will be held on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the King David Memorial Chapel, 2697 E. El Dorado Lane (one street south of Warm Springs, just off of Eastern Avenue), which is just around the corner from Palm Mortuary at 7600 S. Eastern Avenue.

   In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations be made to the Nathan Adelson Hospice or the Parkinson Foundation.